Ofcom round up

David Rado emails:

although the accuracy sections of our complaint were considered under section 2.2 of the broadcasting code, that was not the section that we had complained under. We complained primarily under section 5.7, but Ofcom decided section 5.7 only related to news programmes. We don't think the code makes it at all clear that it the requirement for accuracy only applies to news programmes (which is why we complained under that section) - and if it's really true that science documentaries are not expected to be accurate, that is a serious indictment of the broadcasting code.

Hmmm, let's look at the code:

(Rules 5.5 to 5.12 apply to television programme services, teletext services, national radio and national digital sound programme services.)

Which would seem to include the Swindle.

5.5 Due impartiality on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy must be preserved on the part of any person providing a service (listed above). This may be achieved within a programme or over a series of programmes taken as a whole.

Ofcom said this section applied to the Swindle.

5.7 Views and facts must not be misrepresented. Views must also be presented with due weight over appropriate timeframes.

Ofcom decided this didn't.

I dunno, the code seems fine to be, I think the problem is with Ofcom.

As Michael Le Page at New Scientist writes, the ruling means:

Don't believe anything you see in a TV documentary made in the UK.

Documentary makers here have no obligation to be accurate, though factual programmes should present a wide range of views.

Look on the bright side, this inaccurate Channel 4 news item:

But Ofcom found that despite concerns over the presentation and omission of various facts and views, the audience watching the Channel 4 programme was not "materially misled".

is a breach of the code. Well, unless Ofcom reinterprets it again.

Other reactions to the decision: from many of the scientists involved with the complaint, from James Annan, and from Steven McIntyre, who puts the Channel 4 spinners to shame.

McIntyre warns his readers against reading the BBC news stories, lest they find out the Channel 4 was found to have made multiple breaches of the broadcast code. McIntyre falsely claims that a misleading temperature graphic was corrected when it was merely replaced with one that was almost as misleading. McIntyre is delighted that Ofcom evaded ruling on accuracy and claims that it was a "complete stuffing of the 37 professors". McIntyre doesn't dispute the accuracy of the complaint. His earlier attempt to do this blew up in his face.

More like this

I got my letter from Ofcom this morning telling me of their decision, which must be one of the slightly bigger wastes of paper since that book by Nigel Lawson.

If Ofcom get away with this, then its open season to tell whatever lies you like in a documentary, especially if you can hold up proceedings long enough. It seems that Ofcom just didn't want to know, and therefore simply said 'its too complicated' to every single complaint.

Its letter writing time - and this time, lets go after Ofcom and C4's advertisers as well. I really want to wipe that smug smile off Hamish Mykura's face...

I see that James Annan has been treated to a particularly unpleasant round of abuse from the troll Tilo Reber.

As a complainant of the Swindle I too am left feeling slightly bemused by this ruling. I'm interested in getting clarification regarding the ruling. Are OFCOM merely saying that in-depth analyses of the scientific ins and outs of the swindle are beyond them? Or are they supporting the notion that it's OK to produce inaccurate supposedly factual programming as long as the issue at hand isn't actually a controversy i.e. its well known that a consensus exists regarding AGW therefore you can misrepresent reality? Dave is saying something else though, that documentaries are exempt from ruling 5.7....which is bizarre too. Each of these possibilities is puzzling. I'm going to make some enquiries.

Is there not some sort of appeal mechanism whereby the reasonable assumption that Ofcom have misdirected themselves, (in respect of their own rules), can be heard?

By douglas clark (not verified) on 22 Jul 2008 #permalink

This is some pretty bad spin. The ofcom decision is available in detail. The rules violated by TV4 were that they did not give people an opportunity to respond. IPCC had 4 days to respond but there was confusion in the email. The UK scientist was never named but a comment could have been easily attributed to him so his not being asked for comment was unfair to him. Carl Wunch lost his claim that he was factually misrepresented but won on the claim that he should have been told more about the program in advance. The rest of the claims were dismissed because they are not under the jurisdiction of ofscom. Now let's see Al Gore's movie go through the same kind of scruitiny, especially since there has already been a high court ruling that there were factual errors in his movie and that it was politically motivated. Those of you in the alarmist camp need to quit giving consensus scientists a bad name.

Mike, I'm surprised but frankly pleased to see that you preceded your ghastly attempt at spin with the admission that it was "some pretty bad spin". You were sure right.

Mike #6

Your assertion that:

"Now let's see Al Gore's movie go through the same kind of scruitiny, especially since there has already been a high court ruling that there were factual errors in his movie and that it was politically motivated"

- is quite wrong, and you're taking comfort from an urban myth.


Tim has dealt with this nonsense before:


As for Gore's film going through the same scrutiny - well according to Mykura C4 are planning to screen it, so you can get your green inkpot ready now...

By Dean Morrison (not verified) on 22 Jul 2008 #permalink

In the spirit of complete transparency in which the AGW debate has been conducted, I suppose we should now look at Gore's comments and conclusions about the link between AGW and the Myanmar cyclone and hurricane Katrina. Then we could todle over and look at Hansen's tipping points and general predictions from 1988 onwards. No, no need, Koutsoyiannis has done a fair job already.

Dave @ 5,

Thanks for the link.

As you were one of the original complainants, you appear to only have two days left to appeal. Do you, or others, intend to do so, or not?

I think they have misdirected themselves, btw.

By douglas clark (not verified) on 22 Jul 2008 #permalink


Your first link to the BBC article is more complex than you credit. For instance there is this:
"Children's Minister Kevin Brennan had earlier said: "It is important to be clear that the central arguments put forward in An Inconvenient Truth, that climate change is mainly caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases and will have serious adverse consequences, are supported by the vast weight of scientific opinion.

"Nothing in the judge's comments today detract from that."

By Mark Schaffer (not verified) on 23 Jul 2008 #permalink

#5: Dave Rado,

Your story http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7517444.stm rang some bells for me. I read up on a lot of climate science after hearing a few people I know make weird CT-based claims about the subject.

When TGGWS came along I knew enough to know that it was one of the most shamelessly dishonest "documentaries" to be shown on UK TV. You did what I only thought about doing, and did it far better than I could imagine doing it. I took the easy option and joined the C4 Science Forum to discuss the subject. I soon realised how many denialists are out there (they demean the word "sceptic"). I've seen much the same in other forums.

The OFCOM complaint you produced is a benchmark on how to tackle dishonesty in the media and a tribute to all who contributed to it. It is also an excellent reference on the subject of climate change. TGGWS exhibits just about every GWSceptic* lie and fallacy and you exposed every one with meticulous accuracy.

Anyway this is a BIG THANKS for what you have done.

The liars are still out there, of course. What next?

*Special use of the word "sceptic". Must be capital S with no spaces;)

By TrueSceptic (not verified) on 23 Jul 2008 #permalink

That's great to hear Dave. Is the deadline for appealling within the next day or so?

I second everything TrueSceptic says, thank you.

Dave - thanks for putting in the appeal. I wanted to do one, but the deadline was very tight. Keep up the good work!

Radio 4's 'The Now Show' is featuring the Ofcom ruling - lets just say Marcus Brigstoke in particular really doesn't think much of Martin Durkin or Ofcom...

Listen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/comedy/nowshow.shtml

Since they also take the mick out of Bonekickers, its a two for one.

Channel 4 has now broadcast the summary of the Fairness ruling (their penalty for breaching the rules).

I've posted the full adjudication summary formatted in Ofcom's style, here.